Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Explicit development and assessment of research skills across degrees enables graduate attributes to flourish (#204)

John Willison 1
  1. University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

As part of an ALTC-funded project, 27 semester-length units used the Research Skill Development framework (RSD: Willison & O’Regan, 2007) to scaffold and assess student undergraduate and masters courses in five universities from 2007-2009, demonstrating substantial advantages for many students. Advantages concerned the development of specific research skills, and especially that those interviewed perceived these skills were or would be useful for employment contexts (Willison, 2012). However, the study also highlighted that even substantial development of research skills in one semester did not guarantee long-term gains i.e. once the skills were developed, there was some evidence that they could atrophy without subsequent explicit development and would therefore not necessarily be part of students’ characteristics on graduation or subsequently. The study therefore called for follow-up work to determine outcomes of degree-wide implementation of the RSD, including the attributes developed in the long term (Willison, 2012).

This spotlight will present findings from a study, funded by the OLT, that determined outcomes of degree-wide implementation,  considering five varied undergraduate degree programs that used the RSD to inform the development and assessment of research skills in multiple courses across the degree. Data was gathered 2011- 2013 through semi-structured interviews of 24 graduates and 23 honours students. The graduates from Oral Health (n=9) and Media (n=10) were all employed when interviewed one year after degree completion. Of the Engineering graduates (n=5) interviewed, two were studying post graduate degrees and three were employed.  These  graduates provided rich descriptions of how they had been using research skills in their employment and other contexts, descriptions that were replete with terms found in the Graduate Attribute literature. The honours students interviewed were from Bachelor of Health Science (n=14) and Bachelor of Animal Science (n=10). Students on this research trajectory expressed that early, explicit and incremental development of their research skills was very useful for their honours level research, for their development of identity as research scientists and for their long-term attitudes to research-related work.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

This spotlight will enable the audience to determine how effectively explicit research skill development pedagogies, informed by the RSD as a conceptual framework, may prepare students for work and research after their undergraduate degrees. In the context of the strategies of the five degree programs presented, the audience will determine the relationship between the capabilities graduates develop through learning experiences and those that are transferred into the world of work. Overall, the presentation will show the emerging evidence that one pedagogy for educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals is the explicit, coherent, incremental development of research skills in multiple semesters of a degree. The presented use of the RSD provides the audience with ways of assessing, evidencing and evaluating graduate capabilities during and after a degree program.

  1. Willison, J. 2012. When academics integrate research skill development in the curriculum. Higher Education Research and Development 31, no. 6. 905-919.
  2. Willison, J., and K. O’Regan. 2007. Commonly known, commonly not known, totally unknown: a framework for students becoming researchers. Higher Education Research and Development 26, no. 4: .393-409.